A lot of books on marriage just frustrate me. They seem to over-generalize: “all women are like this and this” and “all men are like this and this”. "Men are from Venus, women are from Mars." "Women are emotional and intuitive"; "men are strong and make decisions based on data." I read these books and think, that doesn’t describe me, that doesn’t describe John. Are we really that a-typical? There are very few books on marriage that I have found helpful or that I would recommend.
So, I was really surprised when I started reading Fierce Women: The Power of a Soft Warrior by Kimberly Wagner. I resonated with so much of what she said and was convicted in each and every chapter. I wasn’t sure I liked the choice of word “fierce”. I think I personally would prefer “strong”.
I come from a line of strong women. My great-grandmother’s family moved from Indiana to Nebraska in a covered wagon and lived for a while in a sod house. When she was 18, she married a 30 year old man, presented him with three children, and then passed away when my grandma was only two years old. My great-grandfather’s second wife also passed away. His third wife was a widow with her own children who she treated preferentially over her step-children. In fact, life in the house was so miserable that my grandma would not even speak of it as an adult. My grandma was a working girl at a factory during a time when not many girls went to work. In spite of her difficult childhood, she grew up to be a beautiful, gentle, but strong woman who raised four children. My mom is also a gentle, but strong woman. She and my dad, who was headed to Africa as a missionary, carried out their courtship by correspondence. In Africa she gave birth to four children and buried one of them. She worked outside the home for as long as I can remember, kept the family together, was a supportive wife, and never complained about all she had to do. She supported my dad at all times. One summer she kept the family going in Indiana while my dad took a summer course at Syracuse University in New York. She drove from Indiana to Colorado (and vice versa) more than once, with herself as the only driver in the car. Even now, though she is not as robust as she used to be, she gets herself nicely dressed every day and helps with as many chores as she can. I’ve never seen my mom cry unless she had a good reason. She’s never been a drama queen or pitched a fit. (We used to say she was “yelling” at us, and she’d always reply that she didn’t yell, which was true enough!) Her strength, like my grandma's, was rooted in a deep faith in God.
So, I’m not bragging when I say I’m a lot like my mom, my grandma, and even my great grandma. I guess it’s in my DNA. I’m not sure how much of it is strength and how much of it is just stubbornness. So, even though I’m quiet and calm and even gentle, I think I am also strong. In fact, I’ve been told that I have a “gentle arrogance”. When a friend first told me that, I was kind of mad at him because I recognized the truth in it.
Kimberly Wagner says that the fierceness of strong women “grabs on to the hem of God’s will and won’t let go. [It's] a fierceness that determinedly stands strong in a gale of opposition. This kind of fierceness looks fear in the eye without blinking and confidently forges ahead.” She also says men are often drawn to fierce women … but then the very thing that attracted them becomes the thing that is hard for them to live with.
Some characteristics of fierce women are:
Do you recognize yourself in any of those? Yeah, me, too.
Mrs. Wagner examines the word “helper” in the Bible. The Hebrew word is “ezer” and it is not a wimpy word. It’s not being a submissive doormat who spends her day being bossed around by her husband and who can’t think for herself. It means to aid or provide needed help. It is the same word used in reference to God as a “helper” to his people. Being a helper to our husbands is “not an insignificant assignment but one of eternal consequences”. It means aiding your husband in becoming all that God has created him to be. The problem is that we women often think that being our husband’s helper means we need to “help” him improve! As Mrs. Wagner says, “With ‘helping him improve’ as my job description, I became his worst nightmare. … The problem with our marriage wasn’t my fierceness, but the problem was my understanding of what I should do with that fierceness.”
Some of the subjects she deals with are:
· My tendency to view my husband’s decisions through the narrow grid of my tightly held opinion. I like to be in control, the flip side of helping.
· My ingratitude leads to a demand for more.
· My pride forces me to focus the marriage on myself and my needs. I become obsessed with getting love.
· Fear causes me to believe things about my husband,our marriage, or myself that are not true.
Mrs. Wagner spends much of the book working through an acrostic based on the word “APPRECIATION”. She encourages us as women to work on fixing ourselves, not on fixing our husbands. She makes it clear that if your husband is abusive or caught in addiction, steps need to be taken to confront his sin. It is not in your job as helper to submit to his destructive behavior.
Her conclusion is that to be a beautifully fierce (again, I’d prefer the word “strong”) woman, you need to make sure that Christ is the center of your devotion and affections, recognize that your husband cannot ever meet all your needs, and allow the Potter to mold you into His image.
I did think that Mrs. Wagner divided the chapters up in some funny places that made the book feel a bit choppy and broken up. Her personal real-life illustrations and stories were really what gave her authenticity as an expert on the subject. The book is about marriage, yes, but it is written to women, not men. So it's not going to work to give your husband a copy of the book so he can work on his problems. :)
For all of us fierce women whose fierceness has caused conflict or problems in our marriage, I highly recommend this book.
A second book on marriage I recently finished is The Love Dare by Stephen and Alex Kendrick. This is a good book and I would recommend it to anybody who is struggling in their marriage. But it didn’t really resonate that much with me. I actually liked the movie, Fireproof, better than the book. I don’t think reading this book would be a waste of your time, but I just don’t have a rave review for it.
Do you have any good recommendations on books about marriage?